Organic farmer call to action: We can work with GMO farmers to feed the world

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We should all recognize by now that “feeding the world” is much more a logistical and political challenge than an agricultural one. As a farmer, however, I spend a lot of time thinking about producing food economically, efficiently, and ecologically. Conventional wisdom dictates that genetically-engineered crops are a vital part of the overall solution, while organic methods are nothing more than a way to fill a niche market for affluent consumers. Is that assumption accurate? What is it going to take to meet production challenges?

The typical perception is that organic food is so expensive because it is much more expensive to produce. The myth is so pervasive that it even infects farmers, who should know better than anyone that the cost of production is only marginally related to the retail price of food.

What really makes organic food expensive? Factors like economies of scale, supply and demand and profit-taking to name a few. Take organic dairy for example. Here in Canada, an organic dairy farmer will likely get paid about 20% more for their milk, but the consumer often pays double, if not more. Some of the costs are easily justified: it costs more per unit to transport smaller volumes from more widely-dispersed farms to the processors and then out to distributors and retailers. These companies are also dealing with smaller volumes and hence less economy of scale, not the mention the costs associated with keeping organic separate from non-organic products during processing and handling.

Retailers also recognize that unlike regular groceries, some of which are used as “loss-leaders” to bring people into stores, organic products are a hot commodity—many people are willing to pay more for them. If the market will bear higher prices for organic products, everyone in the food chain is willing to take a piece of that pie! And if demand exceeds supply, the price will inevitably rise. The bottom line: don’t blame higher costs of production for expensive organic food—blame free market economics!

If we need to find the cheapest, most efficient way to feed the world, we need to look at what it costs the farmer to grow that food. There are a number of studies comparing and analyzing cost of production between organic and conventional management for a wide variety of crops. The conclusion is that costs of production can either be higher or lower for organic food, depending on the crop and the context. For many crops input costs for traited seeds, fertilizers and herbicides are slashed by relying on biological processes, leaving labor costs and pest control products as the two largest variables. In my experience, organic farmers tend to spend more time on management and planning—when “quick-fixes” are relatively scarce and expensive, designing and maintaining systems that avoid problems is preferable. But what about yield?

Again, the available data offers conflicting results: there’s evidence that organic yields can match conventional yields over the long-term, especially in less-than-ideal conditions. Other studies point to lower organic yields, especially in crops with high fertility requirements. The primary challenge in extrapolating these results to a “feeding the world” scenario is the issue of context.

A major consideration for production agriculture is the law of diminishing returns: smart farmers are in the business of achieving profitable yields, not maximum yields: where organic inputs are relatively more expensive than conventional inputs, organic farmers will use less inputs in order to be more profitable—the extra bushels just aren’t worth the extra cost.

Now flip the coin to consider genetically engineered crops. Arguably, the biggest benefit of herbicide-tolerant and Bt crops has been convenience, simplicity, and reduced risk, as Grist’s Nathanael Johnson discovered. The extra cost of GE seeds can negate reduced input costs for pesticides and other inputs. Of course, this farm-level analysis also fails to consider the millions of dollars it takes to bring a GE crop to market (which partially explains the higher seed costs). The genius of conventional agriculture, seen at its pinnacle with GE seeds, is the ability to simplify systems and reduce labor with purchased inputs.

To return to the question of “feeding the world” economically, a farmer’s choice may well boil down to whether they have access to cheap labor (and the knowledge and management skills to grow organically) or the available capital to invest in GE seeds and any associated inputs: without the capital or even the ability to purchase inputs, developing a more self-sufficient, integrated system employing their own labor and know-how may prove to be a better answer.

At the same time, we also need to consider the environmental impact and long-term sustainability of food production. Again, there are a number of options and approaches to consider. For example, I know that good soil and crop management practices can effectively address fertility and pest challenges, but l also believe that crops bred to resist pests or diseases, or to thrive in less-than-ideal environments, play an important role. Biotechnology can help develop these crops, either through direct genetic engineering or the use of genetic screening technologies. In addition, the long-term sustainability and profitability of agriculture relies on both becoming more energy-efficient and on using more sustainable sources of energy: biologically-driven systems can do that.

Even considering the relatively small and seemingly-simply issue of increasing food production to “feed the world”, a “one-size fits all approach” is clearly not workable. But don’t just take my word for it—look at global flagship of biotech crops. In the past year, Monsanto has made significant investments in data gathering and management technologies (most notably with the acquisition of the Climate Corporation), and in biologicals (with the formation of the BioAg Alliance). Love them or hate them, this is a company clearly positioning themselves where they see agriculture headed.

I’m forced to agree: this trinity of biotech, biology and knowledge-based management, blended and adapted to fit a variety of markets and environments is how the world will be fed in the years ahead. Not just the opportunity, but the actual need, for all types of farmers is real and present.

Rob Wallbridge is an organic famer and consultant based in Western Quebec. He advocates for high-quality organic food and informed communities in agriculture. Follow him on Twitter as @songberryfarm and on his blog, The Fanning Mill

  • Bravo Rob. Well put.

  • jimbrauner

    On the contrary. The whole purpose of GMO as developed by Monsanto and other biotech companies is to sell more and more toxic chemicals to go with seeds which are delivered with skull and crossbones on the bags. It is a failed technology which has not been properly safety tested, and all protestations from bought scientist and others controlled by biotech money not withstanding, we cannot drench our food in more and more chemicals and expect it is good. There is so much info emerging that can be found that illustrates the fact that GMO seeds and their output are not only toxic to humans and animals but also killing the soil and destroying diversity. I can’t imagine why GMO producers should be grated the ability to contaminate other crops and then have the farmers contaminated be prosecuted by Monsanto for stealing their toxic seeds. This is a travesty.

    Equally important is the fact that GMO crops do nothing to improve the quality of the output and in fact research is showing how much less nutrient it is not even considering that it is delivering toxins which make people sick.

    I don’t know how long it will take but I believe eventually this curse on food will be eliminated and holistic food production will prevail lest we poison ourselves and the land for generations to come.

    • FADUTA

      Jimmy Boy – please find the skull and cross-bones on ANY bag of transgenic (= GMO to the uneducated) seeds and post a picture of it. Try knowing something before running off at the mouth.

    • Jim, you provided a rant but no evidence. Every major science body in the world, from the World Health Organization to the National Academy of Science, has found GM crops and food safe and as or more sustainable than conventional or organic–and then there’s Jim Brauner who contests that. I’ll stick with mainstream science.

      • jimbrauner

        http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/syngenta-tried-destroy-tyrone-hayes?akid=11493.82060.89Y6V_&rd=1&src=newsletter957363&t=11

        How Agribusiness Tried to Destroy a Critical Scientist

        http://www.i-sis.org.uk/Scientists_Declare_No_Consensus_on_GMO_Safety.php

        PM Scientists Declare No Consensus on GMO Safety

        http://gmoinside.org/roundup-accumulates-gmo-food-proving-lack-safety-green-med-info/

        Roundup Accumulates in GMO Food, Proving Its Lack of Safety
        (Green Med Info)

        http://rt.com/usa/toxic-study-gmo-corn-900/

        “According to the analysis, GMO corn tested by Profit Pro
        contains a number of elements absent from traditional cord, including
        chlorides, formaldehyde and glyphosate. While those elements don’t appear
        naturally in corn, they were present in GMO samples to the tune of 60 ppm,
        200pm and 13 ppm, respectively.”

        http://www.in5d.com/monsanto-toxic-corn.html

        “Similar to the fluoride in your water, the BT Toxin in
        your GM Corn is toxic and poisonous. There were never any longitudinal studies
        on ANY Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) products, except for the guinea pigs
        who consume this toxic garbage on a daily basis. BT Corn is found in many
        products, such as cereal, corn chips and anything that contains High Fructose
        Corn Syrup (HFCS), such as soda, juices, bread, yogurt (not all), salad dressing,
        most candy, gum and even some ‘nutritional’ bars.It is important
        to remember that the BT Toxin is not ON the corn husk, but IN the corn, itself.”

        http://www.naturalnews.com/041559_Monsanto_GMOs_lies.html#

        (NaturalNews) In May 2013, two million people in over 50
        countries expressed outrage over Monsanto’s desire to own the food supply
        through genetically-altered (and patented) seeds that threaten all life on this
        planet. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are when a plant or animal has
        been genetically engineered with DNA from bacteria, viruses or other plants and
        animals. Whether you like it or not, you are eating genetically manipulated
        food without your consent.

        Learn
        more: http://www.naturalnews.com/041559_Monsanto_GMOs_lies.html##ixzz2x5MGXlcR

        http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2012/10/how-gmos-ramped-us-pesticide-use

        But in a just-released paper
        published in the peer-reviewed Environmental Sciences Europe, Chuck Benbrook,
        research professor at Washington
        State University’s
        Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, shreds that claim. He
        found that Monsanto’s Roundup Ready technology, which dominates corn, soy, and
        cotton farming, has called forth a veritable monsoon of herbicides, both in
        terms of higher application rates for Roundup, and, in recent years, growing
        use of other, more-toxic herbicides.

        http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/326208

        Monsanto’s genetically modified Bt corn is having its roots
        munched by super-rootworms and other superbugs, putting corn crops at risk, and
        yet more evidence is found of the dangers to human health.

        Read
        more: http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/326208#ixzz2x5cbeHCx

        http://www.thealternativedaily.com/gmo-corn-found-in-humans-creates-a-living-pesticide-factory/

        When this pesticide-producing corn entered our food supply
        in the late 1990s – both Monsanto and the EPA insisted that it would only harm
        insects. However, over the past decade, there have been “horror stories piling
        up,” according to the Huffington Post.

        http://www.foodrevolution.org/

        Industrial agribusiness is controlling much of the world’s
        food supply! They have huge advertising budgets to market highly processed,
        genetically engineered, chemical-laden, pesticide-contaminated pseudo-foods.

        But you may not be aware that they are also dominating policy and
        regulations on food safety. With all their lobbyists and political
        donations, they pretty well run the show in most of our government regulatory
        and agricultural agencies here in the United States, and also in other
        countries.

        As long as they are in control, our families and our children are at risk,
        plain and simple.

        This source has endless access to Real Science regarding
        GMOs

        http://billmoyers.com/segment/vandana-shiva-on-the-problem-with-genetically-modified-seeds/

        Vandana Shiva on the Problem with Genetically Modified Seeds

        http://www.enveurope.com/content/24/1/24

        Impacts of genetically engineered crops on pesticide use in
        the U.S.
        — the first sixteen years

        http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14735903.2013.806408#.UvkZqc6HPFw

        Sustainability and innovation in staple crop production in
        the US Midwest

      • Jiriki13

        Correction: every major science body in the world has NOT found GM crops and food safe in the long term. There have been NO long-term studies completed. And I, for one, am not willing to gamble the life and health of my family to a science experiment. And what happens when everyone switches to GMO crops, and suddenly there is a wide-spread epidemic of disease or pest that destroys the global GMO crop? THEN we have world-wide starvation. But with organic, diverse crops we might have one particular strain of corn or tomato affected by a rogue fungus or pest, but not the entire supply. And we haven’t even begun to address the issue of Monsanto’s monopoly in creating the market, and then forcing farmers to adopt it and forcing those who will not follow suit out of business. And their chemicals have been proven to be primarily (or completely) responsible for the destruction of honey bees throughout North America. Who knows what else they are destroying through their unethical and impractical business and science practices.

    • Larry

      Jim, I’m sorry you don’t seem to care about the science, but the science says you’re wrong. I work on developing country crops and all that is being done is to get crops that can give better yields. The approaches using genetic engineering are to overcome pests and pathogens that aren’t possible with traditional genetics and breeding. They don’t involve “forcing” people to buy things from companies. In most cases they don’t even have access to agricultural inputs. It is expected that the improved crops won’t be sold with extra costs involved because they are being developed with public funding for the “greater good.” Look up that concept, because it doesn’t sound like you think thats possible. Then again, based on your comment, you don’t look up the facts.

    • But Jim… only a small handful of GMO crops require the use of a patented herbicide. Bt crops, by contrast, don’t force farmers to buy anything except the seed, and in fact excuse farmers from buying Bt!

      • jimbrauner

        http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/syngenta-tried-destroy-tyrone-hayes?akid=11493.82060.89Y6V_&rd=1&src=newsletter957363&t=11

        How Agribusiness Tried to Destroy a Critical Scientist

        http://www.i-sis.org.uk/Scientists_Declare_No_Consensus_on_GMO_Safety.php

        PM Scientists Declare No Consensus on GMO Safety

        http://gmoinside.org/roundup-accumulates-gmo-food-proving-lack-safety-green-med-info/

        Roundup Accumulates in GMO Food, Proving Its Lack of Safety
        (Green Med Info)

        http://rt.com/usa/toxic-study-gmo-corn-900/

        “According to the analysis, GMO corn tested by Profit Pro
        contains a number of elements absent from traditional cord, including
        chlorides, formaldehyde and glyphosate. While those elements don’t appear
        naturally in corn, they were present in GMO samples to the tune of 60 ppm,
        200pm and 13 ppm, respectively.”

        http://www.in5d.com/monsanto-toxic-corn.html

        “Similar to the fluoride in your water, the BT Toxin in
        your GM Corn is toxic and poisonous. There were never any longitudinal studies
        on ANY Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) products, except for the guinea pigs
        who consume this toxic garbage on a daily basis. BT Corn is found in many
        products, such as cereal, corn chips and anything that contains High Fructose
        Corn Syrup (HFCS), such as soda, juices, bread, yogurt (not all), salad dressing,
        most candy, gum and even some ‘nutritional’ bars.It is important
        to remember that the BT Toxin is not ON the corn husk, but IN the corn, itself.”

        http://www.naturalnews.com/041559_Monsanto_GMOs_lies.html#

        (NaturalNews) In May 2013, two million people in over 50
        countries expressed outrage over Monsanto’s desire to own the food supply
        through genetically-altered (and patented) seeds that threaten all life on this
        planet. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are when a plant or animal has
        been genetically engineered with DNA from bacteria, viruses or other plants and
        animals. Whether you like it or not, you are eating genetically manipulated
        food without your consent.

        Learn
        more: http://www.naturalnews.com/041559_Monsanto_GMOs_lies.html##ixzz2x5MGXlcR

        http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2012/10/how-gmos-ramped-us-pesticide-use

        But in a just-released paper
        published in the peer-reviewed Environmental Sciences Europe, Chuck Benbrook,
        research professor at Washington
        State University’s
        Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, shreds that claim. He
        found that Monsanto’s Roundup Ready technology, which dominates corn, soy, and
        cotton farming, has called forth a veritable monsoon of herbicides, both in
        terms of higher application rates for Roundup, and, in recent years, growing
        use of other, more-toxic herbicides.

        http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/326208

        Monsanto’s genetically modified Bt corn is having its roots
        munched by super-rootworms and other superbugs, putting corn crops at risk, and
        yet more evidence is found of the dangers to human health.

        Read
        more: http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/326208#ixzz2x5cbeHCx

        http://www.thealternativedaily.com/gmo-corn-found-in-humans-creates-a-living-pesticide-factory/

        When this pesticide-producing corn entered our food supply
        in the late 1990s – both Monsanto and the EPA insisted that it would only harm
        insects. However, over the past decade, there have been “horror stories piling
        up,” according to the Huffington Post.

        http://www.foodrevolution.org/

        Industrial agribusiness is controlling much of the world’s
        food supply! They have huge advertising budgets to market highly processed,
        genetically engineered, chemical-laden, pesticide-contaminated pseudo-foods.

        But you may not be aware that they are also dominating policy and
        regulations on food safety. With all their lobbyists and political
        donations, they pretty well run the show in most of our government regulatory
        and agricultural agencies here in the United States, and also in other
        countries.

        As long as they are in control, our families and our children are at risk,
        plain and simple.

        This source has endless access to Real Science regarding
        GMOs

        http://billmoyers.com/segment/vandana-shiva-on-the-problem-with-genetically-modified-seeds/

        Vandana Shiva on the Problem with Genetically Modified Seeds

        http://www.enveurope.com/content/24/1/24

        Impacts of genetically engineered crops on pesticide use in
        the U.S.
        — the first sixteen years

        http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14735903.2013.806408#.UvkZqc6HPFw

        Sustainability and innovation in staple crop production in
        the US Midwest

      • Sorry Jim. But you’re fighting a losing battle here, not because Monsanto or any other biotech company is right; but because farmers are right.
        Why would so many farmers continue to freely choose to grow GMO crops if they didn’t work? Don’t you have faith in the intelligence of the American farmer?

        • Jim Brauner

          Farmers while complicit in this toxic experiment to some degree are no different than other business persons. In fact, I can see how they would embrace anything that they perceive is beneficial to their farm business just like you or I would. The promise of easier pest control would and should be of interest to them. What I am hoping is that many farmers who are not mega corporate farms will wake up to the trap they have been enticed into. That they will wake up to the fact that the chemicalized seed and pesticide they have been using is not only toxic to them, me/us and that the products they are selling are devalued and inferior and that they will pay the price when a system of ever increasing toxicity and corporate control of their production will have to end and they will be left holding the bag. A good example is the following research How ”Extreme Levels” of Monsanto’s Herbicide Roundup in Food Became the Industry Norm http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/22714-how-extreme-levels-of-monsantos-herbicide-roundup-in-food-became-the-industry-norm

          I am not a professional of any kind in this debate but a 72 year old man who runs a business and wants the best for his family and extended family. I became interested and started doing extensive reading when my wife was diagnosed with metastatic leptomemengial brain cancer in 2010. The more I read and researched trying to understand how this could be sparked in her the more I realized how poorly the food we were eating was which has lead to understanding that GMO degrade and help load us up with more and more toxins.

          Given the Seralini study I was livid that we could have been so fooled by corporate biotech into this food experiment in total disregard for the simplest regard for the application of the The Precautionary Principle which states

          The precautionary principle or precautionary approach states that if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public or to the environment, in the absence of scientific consensus that the action or policy is harmful, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking an action.

          The principle is used by policy makers to justify discretionary
          decisions in situations where there is the possibility of harm from
          taking a particular course or making a certain decision when extensive
          scientific knowledge on the matter is lacking. The principle implies
          that there is a social responsibility
          to protect the public from exposure to harm, when scientific
          investigation has found a plausible risk. These protections can be
          relaxed only if further scientific findings emerge that provide sound
          evidence that no harm will result.

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Precautionary_principle

          I DO NOT WANT TO EAT GMO TOXIC FOOD AND I DO NOT WANT MY FAMILY TO BE SUBJECTED TO IT!!!!

          When an industry spends millions upon millions to keep me from being able to avoid this toxic food it just reinforces that we are dealing with folks who do not care about safe food but rather about profits and capturing control of it’s production.

          They do not even want us to be able to label it. This is a travesty and all the industry sponsored studies and false manipulations to keep this system going is obvious if one looks at the whole picture.

          There is an ever increasing abundance of how this toxic system is not good for food value, human and animal food safety and maybe even more important, the destruction of our biodiversity.

          GMO foods/crops as we know it will not prevail eventually. It is a shame that so many folks will be injured because we can not differentiate profit and safety.

          • I’m going to stop you right in your second sentence Jim. Farmers don’t “perceive” that GMO technology is beneficial to their farm business. After 20 years, they’ve decided it is better. And they’re right. Because if they were wrong, this would all have ended years ago.

          • Samuel Leuenberger

            You certainly did not do “extensive reading” if you stopped at conspiracy websites like the one you are linking to or are not yet aware that the Seralini study has been completely debunked as flawed science and eventually retracted from the journal it was published to.
            Please do yourself a favor and check the science before freaking out, if you let yourself be so easily fooled by the kind of cranks running websites like Truthout, you will end-up avoiding vaccines for your family.

          • jimbrauner

            Let me recommend you go to the Seralini web site and take the time to read how his research was withdrawn from the journal and far from being debunked by biotech groupies, answered all the phony issues used to try to negate the simple outcomes.
            http://www.gmoseralini.org/en/

            I guess you consider yourself either well read or perhaps you are a scientist or farmer of some type who is either expressing you own conclusions or perhaps in some way beholding to the biotech industry and committed to trying to kill all negative research or conclusions about GMOs.

            I hold with the Precautionary Principle which states

            The precautionary principle or precautionary approach states that if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public or to the environment, in the absence of scientific consensus that the action or policy is harmful, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking an action.
            The principle is used by policy makers to justify discretionary
            decisions in situations where there is the possibility of harm from
            taking a particular course or making a certain decision when extensive
            scientific knowledge on the matter is lacking. The principle implies
            that there is a social responsibility to protect the public from exposure to harm, when scientific investigation has found a plausible risk.

            If after reading the Seralini information and rebuttal to the ‘crank and flawed responses from biotech’, you don’t have any doubt and you trust a company like Monsanto who still claims that a 90 day safety test using the same rats that Seralini used is enough science then we may have a problem. Seralini observed them over 2 years using the Monsanto full product itself instead of just glyphosate. I guess we really can’t discuss either toxicity or safety and it seems your bias and unwillingness to embrace the Precautionary Principle precludes a reasonable look at all the science now being made public showing GMOs as toxic and unsafe.
            Monsanto’s Roundup may be linked to fatal kidney disease, new study suggests
            http://rt.com/news/monsanto-roundup-kidney-disease-921/

          • Samuel Leuenberger

            From your text: “[…] when extensive
            scientific knowledge on the matter is lacking[…]” obviously do not apply to GMO since there is this extensive scientific knowledge. Because you are limiting yourself to conspiracy websites, you are missing the fact that there is a scientific consensus on the safety of GE for crops. No need to apply the cautionary principle here.
            As for the Seraliniy study, it has been retracted, and if you had some basic high school math skill you could debunk it yourself, yes it is that badly made: any high school student with basic grasp of statistics could tell you that. But I wonder why you would believe an activist like Seralini while ignoring the hundreds of other studies telling us there are no safety concerns for human health or the environment with GMOs.
            Seralini is using the conspiracy card because he has no science to back up his claims.
            As for your last link, interesting read. But obviously you show that contrarily to your affirmation you did not read or inform yourself:
            1) This is an hypothesis that need to be confirmed
            2) This is a country not using RR GMOs, therefore absolutely no link or reason to be against GMO on this ground.
            3) This hypothesis would require anyway hard waters to work, therefore excluding all other areas
            So again, do not pretend to have an informed opinion if all you do is cut and paste conspiracy web sites content without analysing them with some basic skepticism.

    • Eric Bjerregaard

      Jim, I have found “drenching” my crops to be less than cost effective. Rather, I follow label instructions and always use the least toxic chemical I can afford. Please explain why you drench the crops on your farm.

  • FADUTA

    Let’s review the grand experiment that is organic farming – going on since the dawn of man. It’s called Africa. They have been farming organically for centuries. How’s that been working out for them?

    • Intensive – as opposed to passive – organic farming can do surprisingly well, especially when helped along by modern labor-saving devices like tractors and cultivators. But, with that said, it’s perfectly fair to point out that in the eyes of many urban organic activists, Africa, along with Cuba and North Korea, are actually the models we should follow here in the West when it comes to farming. And that’s just naïve.

      • detroit58

        No Mischa, it is not fair as “eyes of many” is a far stretch from the general thinking of urban organic activists here in the U.S.

        • No… I’m sorry detroit58, but the average urban organic activist here in the U.S. and in Europe actually believe the way forward for starving Africa is to stay organic. That’s why these activists are so dead-set opposed to GMO Golden Rice.

          • detroit58

            Why the moving target? First you throw a speculation as fact about U.S. urban agriculturalists “modeling” Cuba and North Korea, then you switch to a different point of U.S. urban agriculturists wanting Africa to stay organic. ??? Add another ringer – rice! Intensive small space urban ag will generate produce, not grains (here, there and everywhere).

            If you really want to feed “Africa”, campaign against waste, fraud and economic abuse.

          • I have no idea what you’re talking about.

          • detroit58

            Read your two prior posts. I am seeing a trend in attempted dialogue with you where you drift on specific points while leading to your “organic” agenda.

          • I can see this is your first debate detroit58, so I’ll slow down for you.
            Anti-GMO, urban organic activists need to stop standing in the way of innovation.
            When millions of farmers accept a new piece of technology – whether it’s the tractor, synthetic fertilizer or GMOs – it’s time for those who don’t farm to step back from the debate.

          • detroit58

            Condescension is a poor addition to a cumbersome path to your actual point.

          • Condescension? Ha! That’s good for a laugh.
            You’re the one accusing me of drifting with my answers. If you don’t like my answers stop asking questions. I thought we were having a debate here.

          • detroit58

            What I don’t like is your evasive drifting en route to, what often is, your “organic” agenda. That’s too bad because you are capable of posting lucid comments.

          • I apologize if I have been evasive. Sometimes questions lead to answers one did not anticipate. that’s the nature of a true and open debate, what Hegel referred to as “synthesis.”
            I certainly don’t mean to even seem evasive though, and hope I’m not. So tell you what… go ahead and ask me something and I’ll give you straight answer!

          • detroit58

            I pick the original – “… in the eyes of many urban organic activists, Africa, along with Cuba and North Korea, are actually the models we should follow here in the West…”
            Where did you reference this from? I could only find only a couple isolated articles from far left news sources.

          • IFOAM is the worst when it comes to suppressing technology and innovation in African agriculture. Their website refers to “The Organic Alternative For Africa” which IFOAM says “aims to make sure that decision makers are aware of the organic alternative and its benefits for empowering Africans” and informing them about the “suitability for enabling sustainable development and addressing key agriculture related challenges such as hunger, malnutrition, water scarcity, climate change, land degradation and poverty is key to understanding the potential of the organic alternative.”
            http://www.ifoam.org/en/core-advocacy-campaigns/organic-alternative-africa

            Then there’s The African Organic Farming Foundation here in the United States, a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization whose mission is to reduce poverty among Southern Africa’s rural communities through the introduction of organic farming.
            http://www.africanorganics.org/

            I could go on, but the organic industry has had 2 decades to convince African farmers to “go organic,” and it’s not working. This is why I say Third World countries need organic agriculture like they need a hole in the head or a bottle 15-year-old Scotch.

            Finally, I give you that group of French urban intellectuals who wrote The Coming Insurrection and who posit that “The most advanced experimentation with ‘organic’ agriculture on a global level has taken place since 1989 on the island of Cuba.”
            I hope I have answered your question directly.

          • detroit58

            Sigh…..Not at all. I’ll give it one more shot.

            In your first post in this thread you state “… in the eyes of many urban organic activists, Africa, along with Cuba and North Korea, are actually the models we should follow here in the West…”

            What reference supports this comment of US modeling THEM?

            This is entirely different from the rest of your contentions of US forcing THEM to be organic.

          • Terribly sorry for the confusion on my part detroit58. Type “Cuba World Leader in Sustainable, Organic Farming” into Google. One of the most misleading ideas you’ll run across is the following:
            “Cuban agriculture works with nature. In Cuba, one calorie of energy produces 12 calories of food. Canada uses 12 calories of energy to produce one calorie of food.”
            http://camel4all.wordpress.com/2013/09/06/cuba-world-leader-in-sustainable-organic-farming/

            What the author fails to explain is that Cubans are making up the difference in energy inputs through hard labor.

            And even Cuban officials are stooping to claim that “Cuba is now one of the world leaders in biofertilisers,” failing to explain that people are suffering from malnutrition and that managing compost requires vast amounts of energy.
            http://www.cubaagriculture.com/agriculture-today.htm

            Again, I hope I have answered your question.

  • Dear Rob:
    It’s quite heartening to see you come out in favor of GMOs. One thing though, you’re still failing to take into account all the surrounding pest-control being carried out by non-organic farmers when you assess the productive capacity of organic farming. Other than that, quite a though-provoking article I must say!

    • Rob Wallbridge

      Thanks Mischa. The reason I haven’t taken your opinion into account is because I’m interested in the science, and so far I haven’t seen any scientific evidence to back this claim.

      On the contrary, the actual research seems to indicate the opposite: organic farms provide ecosystem services, pollination in particular, to the surrounding landscape. Please see http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol17/iss4/art40/ and http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0031599

      Maybe it’s the conventional farms who are over-estimating their productive capacity!

      • If you were right Rob, then we’d have to assume every non-organic farmer in America is just too dumb to notice his yields and revenues are going down instead of up.
        If the American farmer was duped into adopting GMO technology by Big Ag Corps, are we to assume farmers were also duped into exchanging the work horse for the diesel tractor a century ago by tractor companies?

      • Samuel Leuenberger

        Though Mischa’s hypothesis sound intuitively good you are right it is not backed by any study. However I find surprising when speaking about yield that you did not take in account the documented externality that conventional Ag provide to Organic when it come to P, K, and N input as detailled in this French study:
        http://iopscience.iop.org/1748-9326/8/4/044045/article

        • Rob Wallbridge

          Hi Samuel – I’m aware of the French study, though I’m not sure how accurately it can extrapolated to North America (or anywhere else). Regardless, one of the primary points of my article is to suggest that there is no “one right way” to “feed the world.” I’m arguing that we should be blending and adapting a variety of technologies in order to meet the demands and capitalize on the opportunities available, without prejudice based on ideological positions, false assumptions, or theoretical constructs.

          • Samuel Leuenberger

            I wholeheartedly agree to that Rob 🙂

  • nyaya

    What completely baffles me is that people are still led to think and believe that GMO is all about putting cow genes to wheat. Just the other day I was explaining this to a lay person. This shows the scare mongering myth cultivated by the ill informed crude propaganda by organic lobby just o protect their interests. We cant forget the fact before 1970s organic farming was the main stay in most countries int he world and famines and food shortage was common. Rationing of food was common due to food shortage. Later with advent of better genetics, better crop sprays etc so called conventional farming practices came about in the west even though most other countries could not afford to do so. West always thinks it invented organic farming. NO. It did not. Greedy farmers and vested interest even there started controlling the process just like greedy organic farmers do today. There should be a mixture sustainable farming with minimal usage of chemicals and fertilizers. However one cant ignore the rest of the world when west sits and does this luxurious debate. What is so new about organic farming that our ancestors did not know? No conventional farmer wants to spray either but not having the plant genetics will force them to spray. This means GMOs have to be allowed so that on a case by case basis spray reduction strategy can be introduced and managed.

  • Bob Mac

    Two items: the excessive use of toxic chemicals in GMO exceeds even standard USA agriculture; the plants not exposed to toxics develop up to 30x more immune-enhancing Salvestrols than plants never exposed to fungi and other pathogens. Plants seem to have the same immine response as animals, and the valuable enhancers benefit the animals that eat these plants.

  • Brian

    Another good read from you, Rob. I think people always want to put farms into the black and white categories of organic or GMO. Like you I’m always looking for a better way to do things on our farm. Some of our crops are GMO, some are not. If I were to completely ignore what organic farmers were doing differently than we do, I’d be doing myself a disservice. I get so many ideas in my head of how we can produce more and/or be more efficient that I can’t possible try them all out in one year!

  • I’ll believe you, Rob, when you stop calling yourself an “organic farmer”.

  • Pramod Sharma

    Wow what a lovely comparison of two different things. Genetic modification is a method of crop improvement which is more related to plant breeding and genetics and Organic farming is practice of doing cultivation. There is only one common point i.e. insect resistance. GM crops can reduce the use of chemicals in practice.
    But iss there no option in between organic farming and Genetic modification? what about the use of Biodiversity. It is said that there are almost 50 thousand edible
    plants in the world and 4 billion people are using three major crops
    maize, rice and wheat. What about the use of different crop improvement methods like selection, cross pollination etc.

  • Lee

    Rob, I don’t agree with your broad statement in the least and I invite you to visit some working organic farms before defending the use of genie in the bottle. unproven, Bt corn. It appears that many of the countries in the world are now banning it and other GM crops as we should here in Canada. We can “feed the world” without promoting the chem giant Monsanto as well. Instead of worrying about the world, let’s take care of our own backyard first and get these dangerous technologies out of our fields.

  • ImNotTelling

    No comment against GMO’s will get any headway on a site whose very name implies that anyone who does not agree with GMO is ignorant, though I applaud JimBrauner’s efforts to educate the GMO worshipers. The truth is, all of you GMO supporters have drank the koolaid and in their ignorance and greed they are poisoning the world. I have no doubt that you know the truth, deep down, and your family does not eat GMO foods if they can help it. I would rather die of starvation then eat GMO’s and die of disease. If the US Government was not so corrupt you would lose your hold here in American and with any luck someday soon the US Government will follow the lead of dozens of other countries and ban the use and sell of GMO’s!

  • Giannaalberti

    This is not a topic I am entirely opinionated on, but it is an article that is sharing the benefits of both sides which is something that I can relate to. It is nice to see an equal exchange on a topic that is SO highly opinionated. I is definitely something I need to know more about before I create my own opinion. The more I learn, the more I fluctuate and go back and forth.

  • Celine

    I don’t really understand why we have this debate in the U.S. Russia is already banning gmos and most of Europe has. We have enough food in the world but the problem is people are poor and don’t have the much income in poor countries to. I don’t trust Monsanto they created Agent Orange and the people are still suffering. Farmers in Haiti many of them I saw in this documentary burn gmo seeds. Poor people should have a choice between organic and nonorganic and not be forced to eat gmos if they don’t want to. Why is it the rich don’t eat this stuff? It’s all about control from Monsanto who has a big market share in seeds. Also I believe personally that we shouldn’t be tampering with God’s creation and putting ourselves above God. You may disagree and say God gave us brains but remember if we think we know better than God we make ourselves idols/ Also God hates the love of money and these companies love money. One day Monsanto people will stand in front of God and give in account of what they have done with they don’t repent and turn to Jesus Christ. You can mock this but I guarantee you wouldn’t be mocking when you stand in front of God at the end of your life. Actually the United Nations said organic food can feed the world

    http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2011/12/organic-can-feed-the-world/249348/

    Suspicious of the political motives of the U.N.? Well, there’s a study that came out in 2010 from the all-American National Research Council. Written by professors from seven universities, including the University of California, Iowa State University, and the University of Maryland, the report finds that organic farming, grass-fed livestock husbandry, and the production of meat and crops on the same farm will be needed to sustain food production in this country.

    oo bad solid, scientific research hasn’t been enough to drive that nail home. A 2010 United Nations study (PDF) concluded that organic and other sustainable farming methods that come under the umbrella of what the study’s authors called “agroecology” would be necessary to feed the future world. Two years earlier, a U.N. examination (PDF) of farming in 24 African countries found that organic or near-organic farming resulted in yield increases of more than 100 percent. Another U.N.-supported report entitled “Agriculture at a Crossroads” (PDF), compiled by 400 international experts, said that the way the world grows food will have to change radically to meet future demand. It called for governments to pay more attention to small-scale farmers and sustainable practices — shooting down the bigger-is-inevitably-better notion that huge factory farms and their efficiencies of scale are necessary to feed the world.

    • No country in Europe has banned GMOs. In fact, every country imports GMOs. They are used in most countries to feed animals (that we eat) and they are perfectly safe. Spain, Portugal and a few other countries in Europe grown GM crops, and Britain is soon too. The science agency of every country in Europe, as all as the European Commission and the European Food Safety Authority, has publicly issued statements that GM foods are as safe or safer than organic and conventional foods. As for Russia, they are indeed about to ban GMOs. Of course Russia also believes that being gay is a crime against humanity and has outlawed that. Let’s be thankful that science and tolerance and not subject to political votes. Oh yes…I’m an atheist, so no fears of the supernatural.

  • Celine

    I think the reason farmers still use gmo seeds is once they are in the contract it’s hard to get out. Also I think it might have to do a bit with greed for some farmers